When we enter into the teaching world, we are usually aware of the difficulties that come along with it. The long hours, the low wages, the tough conversations, and the emotional toll it can take. This is fairly well publicized, and many of us know it’s part of the job. What some of us don’t expect is the dwindling respect for teacher as the experts on education.
When I think on this topic, as I’m sure with many other teachers, I get frustrated. Because I honestly don’t know of another profession where those who are qualified to do it, those who devote their lives to it, those who continually study it, are not considered the experts. Where the professionals themselves are not consulted when making decisions about the trajectory, legislation, and necessities of the work being done.
A global study done by the Varkey Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to standards of education, found some pretty staggering results. The Teacher Status Index section of the report sought to quantify the respect, or status, teachers held in their respective countries. It incorporates a variety of dimensions, as does the notion of respect itself, including the ranking of teaching against other professions, social status of educators, student respect, and teaching as a desirable career. On a scale of 100, the United States scored a 39.7.
This indicates a major issue in our country. Not only are current teachers themselves not respected, but the career field as a whole is not one that is considered a respectable pursuit by a majority of our country. That is even more frightening to me because it tells us that young people are not excited about teaching as a career. It’s not one that is considered worthwhile or desirable. The data shows that, in fact, they are rather averse to it and may even be encouraged toward an entirely different path.
I know in my own experience, especially during my undergrad years, I was cautioned away from teaching numerous times. Many suggested I should go into business or marketing, so I could “make some real money” and actually have a shot at paying off my student loans. I was told that teaching really isn’t a viable career option, and something I should probably view as more of an interest or a hobby. I’m still not entirely sure what that means, but the message itself was clear: Don’t go into teaching if you want to have a decent job.
But the comment that made me the most angry, and still does to this day, was being told that I was too smart to become just a teacher. That my intelligence and my determination would serve me in a far better career field, like medicine or law.
My blood still boils thinking about it.
It is striking to me that there seem to be only a few career options that are considered ‘the best’ and that teaching is not included among them. I do not agree that we should be encouraging our young people, those with bright futures, those hard working and bound to be successful students in our classrooms, away from the educational field.
Our society is one where teachers are often viewed as ‘less than’. There are a host of reasons why, at least that I myself have witnessed or experienced, but at the end of the day they are all detrimental to our ability to do our jobs well. In fact, in the same study by the Varkey Foundation, a correlation between teacher status and student success was found. It stated that when teacher status and respect are higher, there is a direct improvement in student outcomes. In other words, when teachers are viewed and treated as the professionals that they are, students benefit and achieve more academically.
As a whole, we need to work towards viewing teaching as a respectable, worthwhile profession. It is one of the most rewarding, most necessary professions that exists today. Those of us with expertise and experience in the field see this daily, regardless of some of the difficulties that come along with it. We see the importance of education, the tools it offers, and we see our students thrive in the future because of their education. Because of the work that we do. It’s crucial that we help others see this too.
It’s also beneficial to remember that everyone who attended K-12 public school is not automatically a highly-qualified expert on the topic. Our undergraduate programs are intensive, covering a huge array of topics that are necessary in our work. We take courses on literacy development, lesson planning, child psychology, behavior interventions, in addition to our practical applications through classroom field experience. Beyond that, 47.7% of the educators in the US hold a Master’s degree. In the 2016-17 academic year, the education field had the second largest number of Master’s degrees awarded. These are earned through careful study of instructional best practice, pedagogical methods, educational technology, trauma-informed teaching, brain development, and student engagement, and much more. Years are spent honing skills and developing a deeper understanding in our field. Many educators devote further energy after their school day in study to better meet the needs of the kids we serve. Our expertise goes far beyond our own student experience and what we did when we were in school.
Until we begin to see teachers as professionals in education, we will not see this status change. Until we involve teacher voices in educational policy and decision-making, we will not see the reforms we (and students) need. This respect and involvement is vital to ensuring new teachers not only enter the profession, but stick with it. It is imperative in helping young people view teaching as a viable career option, one worth the immense time and effort it will require. It is time that our society realizes that teaching is one of the most influential and meaningful career fields that exists. It is not a backup option. It is not an easy way out. It is not a way to guarantee a sweet schedule and summers off.
It’s crucial to the development of our future. It’s vital to our growth. It’s responsible for our world’s most valuable resource—young minds. It makes all other careers possible. And it requires highly qualified, trained professionals. Which we absolutely are.